"Warlords Must Face War Crimes Tribunal"

By Musue N. Haddad

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

November 4, 2002

"Liberia's warlords must all be tried and prosecuted for war crimes," Co-founder and President of Freedom and International Justice Foundation, Charles Kwalonu Sunwabe told participants of a youth empowerment workshop in Philadelphia over the weekend.

"The warlords, Charles Taylor, Alhaji Kromah, Prince Y. Johnson and all the others, abused and destroyed the youth of Liberia," Sunwabe said, adding "Taylor used the youth of the Mano and Gio tribes as foot soldiers, Alhaji Kromah used our Mandingo brothers and sisters as fighters. The warlords exploited and ruined our country and must therefore be prosecuted."

Sunwabe served as a panelist alongside Dr. E. Lama Wonkeryor and Human Rights Lawyer Tiawan S. Gongloe on the Politic and Good Governance panel. The Workshop organized by the Association of Liberian Youth in Pennsylvania brought together panelists and participants with diverse backgrounds.

Sunwabe in his presentation said Liberians should not be persuaded to believe that the Abuja Accord and or Cotonou Agreement granted Liberia's warring factions amnesty for crimes committed during the war.

"Not only does ECOWAS not have legal jurisdiction over Genocide but the clause in the [Cotonou Accord] was intended to persuade the warring factions to cease the hostilities. That clause was not a blanket amnesty, moreover, the warlords failed to adhere to the Abuja Accords and Cotonou Agreements," Sunwabe said.

He said the view that a clause in the Cotonou Agreement granted amnesty to all combatants and warring factions for acts committed during the war or in combat is a propaganda intended to create disunity among Liberians and ease off any attempt to hold warlords and combatants accountable for crimes committed during the 1989- 1997 civil war.

Sunwabe said the present government of Liberia under Charles Taylor is a direct continuation of the rebel National Patriotic Front (NPFL) of Liberia in its destruction of the youth and violations of tenets of good governance.

"Democracy is about institutions," Sunwabe said adding, "The Leadership in Africa and particularly Liberia use these institutions to strengthen their positions and empower themselves."

He suggested that in order for democracy to take root in Liberia, the Judiciary must be funded through International aid so as to be removed from government's influence and the local media be privatized.

Sunwabe also recommended that military and para-military institutions be reformed to reflect ethnic diversity and trained by international groups. He was quick to point out that his proposal for international trainers did not include Nigeria or ECOWAS member states, adding, that Nigeria and ECOWAS were not symbols of democracy.

He urged Liberian youth in the United States to build a coalition with youth in Liberia in order to maintain an awareness of the trends of national and global issues.

"The old political players should leave the political scene," Sunwabe said. He said the present politicians have not lived to the confidence and aspiration of Liberians and have not contributed to the development of the country. "They have failed miserably and should leave the stage to allow the younger generations steer the affairs of the nation."

Human Rights Lawyer, Tiawan S. Gongloe said the lack of respect for human rights, greed for power and the unfriendly political environments created by leaders in various African countries gave rise to conflicts and civil wars.

Gongloe, presently in the United States for medical treatment as a result of torture by police officers, said the greed for power by African leaders and warlords are exhibited by their displayed of wealth in the presence of extreme poverty and human sufferings.

He said though Liberia's history is replete with the violations of the rights of the indigenous Liberians by freed American slaves (Americo-Liberians), the prevailing situation in that country cannot be exclusively attributed to Americo-Liberians or the natives.

Gongloe suggested that Liberians must not engage in guilt by association but examine individual on the basis of their track record.

"The personal evaluation approach is a catalyst for promoting proper behavior in national life," he said.

"If Liberians had been more careful and used the personal evaluation approach, they would not have elected a government that has no respect for the separation of powers as defined by the Constitution of Liberia. If Liberians had been more careful, they would not have elected a government that could be linked to the destabilization of other countries and has no respect for internationally accepted standards for governance," Gongloe said.

He said the lack of critical evaluation by Liberians resulted in the election of a government that has institutionalized the "politics of opportunism, mediocrity, nepotism, bigotry, dishonesty and disregard for human rights and the rule of law".

Gongloe said he believed that the youth of Liberia particularly those in the United States should adopt the American culture of governance; especially the culture of tolerance of opposing views in the process of governance and establish such practice in Liberia.

Dr. E. Lama Wonkeryor supported the statements made by Sunwabe and Gongloe that the contribution of the Liberian youth was crucial to the development of the Liberian society.

Dr. Wonkeryor, Coordinator for the New Jersey Railroad Project said in order for Liberian youth to reclaim their position, they must actively engage in politics.

He urged youths to desist from doing things that bring the wrath of the laws upon them wherever they reside.

The workshop ended with participants and panelist still eager to continue discussion on issues raised. Some participants were still signaling to make comments or ask question when the organizers announced that the time allocated to use the hall was long over.

While panelists and participants were leaving the hall, Bai Gbala took the microphone and announced that it was "not fair" that they were not given the opportunity to comment on some of the views expressed.

Bai Gbala worked in the late President Samuel K. Doe's government, the Interim Government of National Unity headed by Dr. Amos Sawyer, and also served as Advisor to President Charles Taylor.

Attendants of the conference left the hall but formed small groups outside of the building where heated exchanges on presentations and views expressed during the workshop were held.

Among those present at the workshop were, Geologist and Politician, Cletus Wotorson, Accountant, Garrison Togba, Jr. , New Jersey Railroad Project Coordinator, Dr. E. Lama Wonkeryor, Dr. James Guseh, Dr. Al-Hassan Conteh, formerly of the University of Liberia and presently with the University of Pennsylvania served as Keynote Speaker.

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